A tweet yesterday about “packing up my office” prompted some concerned private messages, and I am always touched by concern, but I am just moving office, not leaving office. However, I’ve been packing up all the stuff piled in my cubicle and it’s just insane. My packrat nature has rarely been such a burden. Plus, I’m recovering from a sprained ankle and putting extra weight on it (like say lifting a giant box of books) results in an unpleasant bulgy feeling.
Plus what to do with all these p-p-…comic books. Tons and tons of comic books that I think I will someday get around to reading, just like someday I will get around to climbing Annapurna.
I took heat from one poster yesterday for saying I called comic books periodicals instead of pamphlets, heat which was somewhat justified. In my fatigued state, I should have added the word “now.” I certainly have written about floppies and pamphlets many times, often derisively, but in their current, endangered state that seems kind of below the belt. While editing articles for PW Comics Week, I sometimes find our writers using the word “pamphlet” in a business sense — pamphlet publishers, pamphlet industry. The word “periodical” seems more dignified, perhaps.
The origin of the phrase “32 page pamphlet” as a negative term for periodical comic books is usually attributed to either myself, Kurt Busiek or Marv Wolfman. Specifically it goes back to PROcon, a gathering for comics professionals, back in the early ’90s, that was sort of an industry issue conference. Attendees listened to panels of other pros, and spirited hand raising debates often began. And everyone wore togas.
They didn’t, but that would have been cool.
Anyway, the way I remember it, many writers and artists were chafing against the straitjacket of the monolithic format and subject matter of the era — graphic novels and collections were not as ubiquitous as they are now, and traditional superhero comics made up even more of industry output than they do now. I do recall Marv Wolfman standing up at one point and asking something along the lines of “Why should we be held to these…these 32 page…PAMPHLETS!” and everyone kind of jumped on the bandwagon and called them 32 page pamphlets for the rest of the conference.
Since that time, “32-page pamphlet” has been code among a certain crowd for a reactionary reliance on superhero periodicals, at the expense of a diverse array of material which appeals to a wider audience.
When I said periodicals were endangered, I meant it in the way that Social Security is “endangered” — there are always people who want to do away with it, but it’s not exactly a priority. Comic book periodicals are endangered the way books, CDs, and DVDs are endangered, but I suspect they will be here in some form in five years.
I used to worry — and many of my friends worried — that comic books were like radio drama and pulp magazines — something that was REALLY endangered and would eventually disappear entirely except as the province of old timey nerds who like to collect obscure old things. Looking back, I wonder why we were all so insecure. The superhero periodical is evolving as we speak, but in a world where electronic media are stealing all the resources, comics are adapting just fine. They spring up unbidden in the cracks of the sidewalk. Comics are a medium, not a genre.
One thing the comic book/pamphlet/periodical no longer is, though, is cutting edge. It is the main economic vehicle for most people who want to make a living doing comics, and it’s a social networking hobby that lots of people enjoy (the “Wednesday crowd.”) But I’d argue that the cutting edge stuff that moves the needle is on the Web or in collected form. (I’m sure many folks will disagree with this idea.)
And yet I still have an office full of periodicals which seem completely disposable and temporary. At least to me. Trying to understand why this is remains a daily struggle.
ANYWAY, to wrap up this ramble, when I want to be dismissive or ironic, I will use the term pamphlet. But in a journalistic sense, I think “periodical” works best for right now.